Ford's third-generation C-MAX is at its best with the brilliant 1.5 turbodiesel engine. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
So you've decided on a Ford C-MAX compact MPV? It's a good choice - give yourself a pat on the back. Next you have to decide which engine and that choice isn't particularly tricky either. Go for the 1.5-litre TDCi diesel. With that combination, you have just about the most multi-talented five-seater anywhere on the market.
Sometimes it really doesn't pay to overthink things. It would be easy to get tied up in knots figuring out exactly what a five-seater Ford C-MAX really brings to the party over a five-seater Ford Focus, weighing that against efficiency and handling penalties and so on and so forth. True, buying a car is a significant investment that shouldn't be the work of a moment, but can we save you a lot of stress? Both the Focus and the C-MAX are brilliant. You can't lose whichever you pick and now that the C-MAX has been fitted with a 1.5-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine, you're getting a car that fulfils the family duties but which is perky enough to have you looking for the long route home from the school run.
Ford first introduced the C-MAX in 2003 and since then has sold more than 1.2 million in Europe and currently holds a 12% market share. This heavily revised third-generation model looks to make further inroads into the shares of rivals like the Citroen C4 Picasso, the Renault Scenic and the Peugeot 5008.
Ford expects this 120PS 1.5-litre TDCi engine to make up the lion's share of UK sales and it's not hard to see why. We're glad Ford has seen fit to plumb it into the pointy end of a C-MAX. Thus endowed, the car will get to 62mph in 11.3 seconds which sounds a fair bit slower than the car feels, as there's a hefty surge of torque (some 270Nm) chiming in at just 1,750rpm. In that regard, the engine feels a little bit old school in that the throttle response feels very turbocharged, but it's certainly not old hat in terms of refinement.
The C-MAX was always an easy pick for anyone who enjoyed driving. It was by far the best car in its class when showed a B-road. Now that the Golf SV is around, that superiority is no longer quite so cut and dried, but it's still a class act. Particular attention this time round has been paid to improving refinement. Noise, vibration and harshness have been improved through the use of thicker side glass and more absorbent seals around the tailgate and rear view mirror. The engine bay heat shield has been filled with acoustic damping material to reduce powertrain noise and diesel cars are equipped with extra acoustic seals to further reduce noise intrusion. A retuned dual mass flywheel helps to reduce shaking forces when the engine is under load, while revised engine mounts offer improved refinement during Auto-Start-Stop operation.
Design and Build
The design of this C-MAX is evolutionary, with many of the details being brought up to date to reflect contemporary Ford thinking. The dynamic styling delivers a stronger, sleeker front end, featuring Ford's distinctive inverted trapezoidal grille. The washer jets have been hidden underneath the windscreen to give a cleaner look while the tailgate has been given a smoother and more sophisticated one-piece appearance.
Inside, you'll find a dash that's a lot less fussy than the previous model, reflecting the customer-led design refinements that have already been executed on the Focus. There are fewer controls and switches, while the smart black satin trim and chrome detailing contributes to a cleaner look. Functions are simpler to use, such as the air-conditioning controls that now feature buttons that are easier to recognise and distinguish from each other. Practicality improves too, with a redesigned centre storage console. The seats still tumble down individually in one motion to create a flat floor, with over 470-litres of space with all five seats in place. If you need more room than that and the option of a third seating row, there's always the Grand C-MAX model to consider.
Market and Model
Ford offers a three model line-up to 1.5 TDCi C-MAX buyers, with the familiar Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X trims. All are equipped with a six-speed manual box, with the Zetec opening at around £20,000. From there, it's a big step up to the Titanium model at around £23,000, or just over £24,000 if you want it with the Powershift twin-clutch gearbox. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool clutch and stick fan, you'll probably find that the Powershift box offers all kinds of advantages. At the top of the range is the Titanium X which adds another £2,000 to those numbers.
So what do you get? The Zetec models are fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, heated door mirrors, air-con and a DAB radio. The Titanium versions get 17-inch alloys, automatic lights and wipers, climate control, a start button and cruise control, while the £2k premium for the Titanium X buys you xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, part-leather seats, heated front seats and a different style of 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options include one of those tailgate opener which operate when you wave your foot under the bumper, a perpendicular parking system and Active City Stop collision avoidance that operates at up to 31mph. Ford's latest Sync2 voice-activated connectivity system is also on offer, delivering smartphone sync and the chance to control some of the car's minor functions by voice command.
Cost of Ownership
If you want the C-MAX as a mere school run and shopping vehicle, you'd actually be better advised going for one of the economical 1.0-litre petrol models as they're priced so cheaply it'll be a more cost-effective purchase. Really leverage the economy benefits of the diesel engine though and you'll save big. The 1.5-litre TDCI diesel returns a combined fuel economy figure of 69mpg, which is excellent for a car of this size and with this much torque.
The insurance reflects the C-MAX's family owner profile, excellent safety and security record and low cost of repairs. The 16E rating right across all models compares to group 19E for a less powerful 110PS Renault Scenic. Small wonder that the C-MAX is mopping up some serious numbers in this sector. Motability customers have selected this as one of their favourite cars, and more than 1.2 million C-MAXs sold proves that Ford is getting the buyer proposal right.
This 1.5-litre diesel engine has been a welcome addition to the C-MAX range. The previous 1.6-litre unit was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth, especially in the face of some very good, mainly French, rivals. With far better economy and no loss in performance, the 1.5-litre is a big step ahead. Likewise the rest of this restyled C-MAX. Prettier on the outside and more functional inside, it does more than enough to earn our vote.
Of course, it presents a clear target for new rivals to take pot shots at, but they'll need to really up their game, especially when it comes to matching the Ford's chassis dynamics. There might be some that are more boldly styled, but if you want the best-driving small MPV, this is it. Even if you don't, it's hard to argue against this car's range of talents. That becomes very clear very quickly.